Webhosting is a service provided by companies who will carry your website on their own internet servers. Each web page is essentially a text document with coded tags, or instructions, describing how it is displayed in the end user's web browser. Your web pages must exist on a server with a dedicated internet connection for 24/7 availability.
Your web pages are placed in a folder that's accessible to the public. Other website resources linked to your pages and stored on the server can include databases, image galleries, and software applications. To enable multiple users to access these elements without the loss of performance, your site's files must be on a web server with robust hardware, and attached to a high-bandwidth network.
Types of Web Hosting
Most web hosting companies will provide different hosting plans to fit a range of client needs and budgets.
1. Shared hosting
With this type of hosting your website files exist on a server's hard drive alongside a number of other clients. Depending on how much of the available space you've been allocated, you might be one of a dozen or a thousand different sites hosted on the same machine.
The appeal of shared hosting is that it's the most affordable option. Your hosting company spreads the cost of maintaining the server among multiple clients to keep prices down. It's the perfect starter option for small businesses or those who require only moderate resources. It requires little technical knowledge as the server is managed by the host.
However, since you're sharing the server with others, your site could be affected by someone else's traffic spikes, system crashes, or computer viruses.
2. VPS hosting
In a virtual private server environment, your site exists as a private server, but your resources are actually spread across multiple servers that also support other user accounts. This can be considered a half-way point between shared hosting and your own physical server. Unlike shared hosting, each VPS is more stable since it's managed separately and utilizes its own operating system.
This makes a VPS more robust and customizable than a shared hosting plan, though you won't get the full stability and security of your own physical server. VPS plans cost more than shared plans and require some technical skills to configure and manage properly. They are a good choice for those who want more resources and options than shared hosting provides, but can't afford or can't manage a true dedicated server.
3. Dedicated server hosting
With dedicated hosting, you have exclusive use and control of your own independent, physical web server. You're leasing the entire server and have complete autonomy to configure it any way you want and install any applications you need. This is the most secure and flexible option.
It's meant for larger companies who want to create their own unique website experience. The downside is that it's the most expensive type of hosting, and requires considerable hardware and web application knowledge to set up and maintain correctly.
Important Features You Should Know About
Before you sign a contract or pay any money to a hosting company, understand the pricing structure and the features you get in return. There are many web hosting companies providing very different packages and prices. To get the best value from your website, there are certain things you should look for when selecting a host.
Responsiveness and fast page loads are important. If visitors to your website have to wait for more than a second or two for content to appear in their browser, they're liable to become impatient and frustrated. Even users who revisit your page will give up if they keep encountering delays. For these reasons, Google and other search engines may penalize a slow site in their rankings, regardless of your other SEO tactics.
There are other factors affecting speed, so it may not be your host's fault. However, operating a fast site starts with a host that provides excellent speed, and does so consistently. You can start by looking for expert review sites that evaluate each hosting company in terms of respective speed and performance.
The amount of storage, or disk space, that you're allowed also plays an important part. If you're running a very modest site, shared hosting should be fine. A 'budget' host may offer a very low price because you're getting very little storage.
You may find hosts that offer 'unlimited' disk space. Be sure to read the fine print. Having unlimited storage could be dependent on other factors, and in real-world use might still be affected by other clients.
One GB will probably be enough for a personal blog or basic business site. But if you're planning to make heavy use of video, capture extensive user information, or install major software platforms be sure you have plenty of storage to spare.
You will more storage if you expect to be handling hundreds of pages and images, such as a moderate-to-large e-commerce site. Extensive animations, video, and apps could also use up a lot of storage. You should also consider anticipated growth.
Bandwidth refers to the amount of data your site can transfer at any given time. Some hosts will promise 'unlimited' bandwidth on the assumption that you'll never use it. If you're only serving textual information and don't expect more than a few hundred users on any given day, lower bandwidths should be enough.
If you have a set amount of bandwidth, however, going over it could affect performance or even involve penalties. Try to avoid signing up with a hosting company that charges you additional fees whenever traffic spikes beyond your allotted bandwidth.
4. Operating system: Windows and UNIX
Each web server, like any computer, runs from an operating system. There is a wide range of choices in a server OS, but the most common are Windows and UNIX, or the variation on UNIX called Linux.
Opinions vary as to which is the superior OS, but it really comes down to your needs and expectations. Your OS typically determines what particular applications and website platform you can run effectively. For instance, most CMS systems like WordPress are based on PHP scripting, and if you're planning to use it, you'll want to ensure that your host's servers support it.
5. Website-building tools
If you don't have much knowledge of web apps and website administration, you'll want a user-friendly set of tools that make it easier to develop and manage your site. Some common utilities you might need are generating customer forms, managing comments, archiving files, shopping carts, and more.
You can store all the static files that your storage allows, but interactive scripts may require certain software components. Fortunately, WordPress and similar platforms often come with your hosting account and are easy to install and manage.
If you're creating a completely new site, some hosts will provide website-building tools. These are designed so that anyone can start from professional-looking templates and then modify them with your own images and menus. Custom web pages will provide users with a unique online experience.
6. Other things to consider
You should receive at least one to ten and preferably more email addresses to your website. You can use them for multiple purposes to keep correspondence organized. Larger hosting packages may offer even 250 inboxes to accommodate different employees.
Every website must have its own unique domain name so that users can find it easily. Hosts may include domain name services, from registration to renewal. You should also be able to transfer your domain name to a different host if you wish.
Number of websites
Businesses may wish to have different websites for various business functions that align with their organization and related interests. Multiple websites included in one hosting account provide lower costs and convenience. Be wary of hosts offering 'unlimited' websites as they may have undocumented limits that require higher prices.
So Which Web Hosting Provider Should You Choose?
There are many hosting companies offering surprisingly low prices. However, you'll often find that these quoted prices are meant to draw new customers and will automatically go up after a trial period. Others will try hard to convince you that their shared hosting services are all you'll ever need and upgraded services are a waste of money.
However, don't assume that low rates provide low value. A good hosting company is often better organized or has more extensive resources for distribution of costs. Some of the premier hosting companies that have always provided low rates include HostGator, 1&1 Web Hosting, Hostwinds, and UKHost4u for U.K. customers.
Picking the cheapest option because you expect basic services, or the most expensive option with the assumption of better services are both unrealistic.
The best approach is to do your research and plan out the features you need that fit your budget. Check online reviews and come up with a list of the top providers for comparison. Determining the best option can make a big difference in your online success.